The Reality of Sales

If you’ve been following the booze industry news lately, then you’ve probably already seen the following statistics regarding Bourbon sales in 2018 (all info courtesy of Impact Databank):

  • Maker’s Mark up 9.1%

  • Bulleit up 9.8%

  • Woodford Reserve up 21.3%

  • Knob Creek up 8.3%

  • Basil Haydens up a whopping 39.5%

  • Four Roses up 19%

All together, the super premium Bourbon category (as it’s called) was up 12% in case volume, driven mostly by the aforementioned brands. What may surprise the super geeks, however, is that Buffalo Trace was only up 8% in comparison. Now that could have been due to supply issues, or a lack of inventory in key markets due to allocations, but while Buffalo Trace sold roughly 186,000 cases in 2018, Four Roses sold 250,000. That’s surprising to me because, as much as I love Four Roses, it’s not repped by one of the two major distributors in California, which limits its exposure in certain accounts. Therefore, hitting that number is a pretty big accomplishment.

These figures are also interesting to me because of the somewhat widespread perception among “cultivated” Bourbon drinkers that Buffalo Trace is perhaps the best “super premium” bargain in the business. I’ve certainly preached that mindset during my career in retail, and I’ve long carried a torch for the label, but it’s always interesting to see how much impact the blogosphere and various online chatter has on actual sales. Bulleit Bourbon, for example, grew by almost as many cases as Buffalo Trace sold, up 120,000 to 1.34 million. Ditto for Maker’s Mark, up 150,000 cases to 1.66 million. Yet, most whiskey “influencers” that I know aren’t out there writing blogs about how great Bulleit is, or how you really need to revisit Maker’s Mark. That shows you the power of those brands to do their own influencing.

Thus, if you wonder why your local liquor store has floor stacks of Bulleit and Maker’s Mark in lieu of more interesting, “craft” selections, see the above numbers. Those brands sell—period. And as four separate liquor store owners told me yesterday, “I’m not interested in buying things that don’t sell.”

-David Driscoll